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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spurs Silence Jazz, Advance to the NBA Finals

The San Antonio Spurs routed the Utah Jazz 109-84, winning the Western Conference Finals 4-1 and reaching the NBA Finals for the fourth time in the Tim Duncan era. As soon as the game began it became apparent that only two words would be needed to describe Utah: not ready. The Spurs simply overwhelmed the Jazz mentally and physically, taking a huge first quarter lead and never looking back. At the 7:52 mark of the first quarter, the Spurs were already up 12-4. Barely five minutes later, the Spurs had pushed that margin to 30-11 and ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy was quoting Yogi Berra's famous quip about it "getting late early." NBA teams generally make at least one run, particularly if they fall behind early, but the Jazz never got closer than 16 points the rest of the way. No Spur played more than 30 minutes and Mike Breen, Van Gundy and Mark Jackson spent the second half grasping at straws for filler material to talk about during one of the longest garbage time segments that has probably ever been seen this late in the playoffs. Duncan had 21 points and seven rebounds in just 29 minutes. Tony Parker tied Duncan with a game-high 21 points, adding five rebounds and five assists. This game is a great example of the significance of point differential and also how individual statistics can be deceptive. Some people dismiss point differential as a measure of a team's strength because winning teams obviously will always have a positive differential but they fail to understand that a large differential accumulated over the course of a season is an indicator of dominance. Of course, one game is a very small sample size and the Jazz recently blew out the Spurs but a 4-1 series victory capped off by a 25 point win is pretty convincing any way that you cut it--and that leads right into how individual statistics must be placed into context by actually watching the games and seeing what transpired. A lot of NBA players could go out and get 21 points and seven rebounds--but Duncan did that work in just 29 minutes against a very good team and it was apparent that if the Spurs needed him to get 30 or 40 points that would not have been a problem. In other words, his statistics for this game do not really reflect his overall impact or skill level. Before Game Five, one of the ESPN talking heads--I think that it was Breen--said something to the effect that Utah's Deron Williams has been the best player on the court during this series, citing his gaudy scoring and assists numbers. It is certainly possible to be the best player on the court even though your team won just one game in a series--Michael Jordan did that several times early in his career and Kobe Bryant did it this year--but only if you are having an impact at both ends of the court and the other team has to go to great lengths to contain you. Jordan and Bryant were swarmed by defenders (and put up big numbers anyway). Deron Williams is a promising young player who certainly had some good moments versus the Spurs but the best player on the court during this series was unquestionably Duncan; he patrolled the paint on defense and required a lot of attention to stop his offense, which led to open shots for his teammates. The double-teaming brought down his individual numbers in some games and sitting out a big portion of the Game Five blowout limited his numbers some more but if you watched the series with any understanding of basketball then you knew that Duncan was the best player.

No one from Utah had a particularly strong game. Andrei Kirilenko led the Jazz with just 13 points, shooting 4-11 from the field. Carlos Boozer shot 3-10 for his nine points, though he did have 12 rebounds and four assists. Williams, who recently fought off a stomach ailment and was greatly limited by a foot injury, had 11 points and two assists and was less than pleased by his team's effort: "There were some guys that were already on vacation. Point-blank. On vacation. A long time ago." Utah Coach Jerry Sloan used different words to communicate essentially the same message: "They came at us really hard. They destroyed our will to want to play. That was the whole thing. We abandoned our offense right away. And we never could get back into it the rest of the night. They put us where they wanted us all night long." Early in the second quarter, San Antonio led 44-24 and Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Michael Finley had combined to score 36 points on 14-19 field goal shooting. This is what the Spurs do when Tim Duncan is healthy: they methodically, systematically wear teams down. That is why I picked the Spurs to win the championship in my playoff preview; that is why way too much was made of the suspensions that happened in the previous round versus the Suns--not just because Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were the only two knuckleheads to violate a no tolerance rule that every NBA player knows but because the Spurs wear teams down and take over series in Games Five and Six (if the series makes it to six games). The Spurs beat the small-lineup Suns in Game Five as Steve Nash flamed out down the stretch (which has received nothing like the attention that has been heaped on LeBron James' pass/shoot decisions versus Detroit) and then they beat the Suns in Game Six even though Stoudemire had a big scoring night. The only team that consistently beat the Spurs in the playoffs in the Duncan era when Duncan was at full strength was the Shaquille O'Neal/Kobe Bryant Lakers, who swept the Spurs in the 2001 Western Conference Finals, beat them 4-1 in the second round in 2002, lost to them 4-2 in the second round in 2003 (a season scuttled by O'Neal waiting to have toe surgery, which ultimately cost the Lakers homecourt advantage) and then beat them 4-2 in the second round in 2004. In each of those years, the winner of the Lakers-Spurs series made it to the NBA Finals and from 2001-2003 that team won the championship.

The Spurs' only other playoff losses since Duncan's rookie year (1997-98) are to the Utah Jazz (1998; John Stockton and Karl Malone's second and last NBA Finals run), Phoenix Suns (2000; Duncan did not play due to injury) and Dallas Mavericks (2006; Duncan was limited by plantar fasciitis); Duncan led the Spurs to championships in 1999, 2003 and 2005, winning the Finals MVP each time. Now the Spurs get to rest for a week while Cleveland and Detroit battle for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. San Antonio will have homecourt advantage against either team.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:26 AM


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At Thursday, May 31, 2007 6:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

spurs a good team they beat the jazz as i predicted but they got lucky in the phoenix series with the stoudamire situation theyll probably win their 4th ring beating detroit or cleveland in that finals series.

they coulda won 3 more if shaq wasnt on the lakers those 3 years they lost to the lakers. but sac portland nj think they coulda got a ring as well if there was no shaq so thats just how it is.

At Thursday, May 31, 2007 7:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Spurs beat the Suns 4-1 in '05 when Amare was healthy (and putting up big numbers) and they beat them 4-2 this year despite blowing a double-digit fourth quarter lead in one of the losses, an exceedingly rare occurrence in the Tim Duncan era. The Spurs have also dominated the Suns in the regular season for quite some time. I don't believe in luck in reference to games of skill but if you insist on referring to luck it is more accurate to say that the Suns are lucky that they did not lose 4-1 again than to say anything else. The only game in the series that looked "lucky" was when the Spurs blew the big lead and lost. Perhaps you could say that the Suns were "unlucky" to have the only two knuckleheads in the entire playoffs who lost their composure enough to leave the bench area during an altercation--but that reflects directly on the players themselves (and, perhaps, the coaching staff for not properly instructing them beforehand or controlling them during the incident). On the other hand, that was a "lucky" thing for the Suns because it gave them a "good" excuse for the beating that they were going to receive anyway.

At Thursday, May 31, 2007 9:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

everybody knows that if the suns had amare and in game 5 they woulda won except you because your `a nash hater i dont really care for nash like that but if the ball hog or the baby kobe bryant would be in that same situation you would make every excuse like you did in my other post when i presented his poor shot jacking facts and you brought up stuff that really didnt matter.

i think the suns woulda won and evrybody else knows that that objective basketball mind the spurs wasnt going to win a game 5 if stoudamire played or 7 thats why the spurs fan gave robert horry a standing ovation game 1 because they know they was going to lose. cause ask yourself what did robert horry do in the series to desrve a standing ovation?

people dont crtize nash because they like him i like lebron too he shouldnt get critcized for what he does and dirk either. It's not like there demanding a trade then coming back on it and demanding a certain person have authority or they want to be traded throwing there gm and teamates under the bus no they dont because there great teamates unlike that other person

At Thursday, May 31, 2007 4:46:00 PM, Blogger Pop Cultured said...

i think david is on point w/ his assessment...Phoenix can't play defense...until that happens, they will not beat the Spurs...

also, if u were watching Game 6, the Spurs shut the Suns down for most of the game...not until it was a 16 point lead or so in the 4th, did Nash sprint up the court every possession to score...

the Spurs are quiet and disciplined, and nobody like them...but someone just keeps winning...

At Thursday, May 31, 2007 5:40:00 PM, Anonymous temp 0x00 said...

to the second anonymous,

by everyone, you mean the voices in your head and the deluded Suns fans, right?

Face it, your team is weak as hell in comparison to the Spurs.

They got owned by a better team, and btw, Stoudamire and Diaw were the ones who REALLY hurt their team by being stupid, not the Spurs.

And besides, you weak-little-marys had a chance to win the final game, yet you blew it when you're beloved choker Nash couldn't do squat to keep the team together.

So much for him being an MVP, eh?

As for throwing a GM under:

Didn't Nash leave Dallas via free agency?

Where was his loyalty then? I suppose unyielding and (absurd) loyalty only applies to Kobe and not Nash.


I hope you weak Suns fans can relish in those two MVP trophies of Nash, because that is all the trophies you will ever look at.

Sorry to the rest for adding to the pollution in this board, but this guy has been going at it for days now with his non-sequiturs.

At Thursday, May 31, 2007 5:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I can't speak for what "everybody" knows but if "everybody" thinks that the Suns would have beaten the Spurs in this series without the suspensions then "everybody" is wrong.

The "stuff that didn't really matter" includes pointing out that your "all-time" data actually only includes 20 years and that field goal percentage is not the best way to evaluate shooting efficiency because it does not include the effect of the three point shot. It also includes pointing out that the "worst" Kobe Bryant game that you could find was a 50 point game in which he had a near triple double, effectively shot .500 and the Lakers won. Yeah, none of that matters--to you, because you are completely not objective on the subject.

What does a standing ovation have to do with anything? I'm evaluating the abilities of the two teams. The Suns can't beat the Spurs in a seven game series. That is why they are talking about breaking up the team. If they thought that they could win as presently constituted then they wouldn't be considering breaking up the team.

You are probably right that people don't criticize Nash because they like him--but media members and people who report about basketball for a living should not base their analysis on who they like; it should be based on what happens on the court. Thank you for agreeing with my point that the coverage of Nash is biased compared to the coverage of the other top five players.

The rest of your comment is just you mindlessly repeating what Jon Barry said last night? Can't you form your own opinion and back it up with facts? Do you really think that Kupchak has done a good job building a team for the past three years? Barry said that Kobe should have handled this privately but he, you and everybody else does not know if Kobe already tried that with no success. Kobe is locked in for two more years, so if he feels like the team is going nowhere he certainly has a right to voice his opinion. Magic did this when he didn't like Westhead's coaching and MJ did this too, so it's funny to hear that Kobe is the first guy to "throw someone under the bus" or publicly speak out against team management.

At Thursday, May 31, 2007 5:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Pop Cultured:

You are correct. The Spurs controlled most of that series, except for a brief lapse at the end of one game that gave the Suns a win. The rest of that series showed that this was just a fluke. The Suns had every chance to win Game Five, which just shows how much talent Nash has to work with there, but Nash came up empty in the fourth quarter. In Game Six, Nash was MIA while the game was in doubt.

At Friday, June 01, 2007 12:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

everybody meaning every body who knows basketball im sorry you 2 I clearly wasnt talking to you. your the only people ive heard say the suns had no chance to win at home in a 2 to 2 series with all there players real basketball knowledge.

the stat only went back to 86-87 so it was all time dude as usual i was right, and im not the person who siad kobe made the all nba team virtually every and only made it 5 of 11 i think that was you.

I also can remeber saying field goal percentage not adjusted field goal percentage i never heard no real anaylst use that they usually use the regular field goal percentage, you was beat and you used your kobe excuse by using that bs.

my opion is that KOBE SUCKS KOBE SUCKS give him his passifire and his baby rattle and tell him to shet up like you tell a baby too. he can take his little second option rings and go somewhere thats all i got to say about him.

what did robert horry do in that series to get a standing o other than foul nash live in the real world not your own please. I guest they gave him standing o for being robert horry.


At Friday, June 01, 2007 7:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yes, you said "field goal percentage"--and you are wrong to think that you have mentioned something of any particular significance. You don't know what you are talking about if you think that the best way to evaluate basketball players is by looking only at their field goal percentage in 50 point games. There are other, more important factors--and if you think that scoring efficiency is important then you have to factor in three point shooting and free throw shooting. A 33% three point shooter scores the same amount of points as a 50% two point shooter. In the games that you cited, Kobe shot and made a lot of three pointers.

How is something that only goes back to 1987 "all-time dude"? Also, I love that the "worst" Kobe game you can find is 50-8-8 with a true shooting percentage of .500 in a victory.

What does a standing ovation for Robert Horry have to do with anything that is being discussed? Players are generally cheered at home and booed on the road. I don't evaluate players based on who is getting cheered or booed.

At Friday, June 01, 2007 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the only way to evaluate players is fg% man you know it and i know your adjusted thing was bs his fg% he had 6 of the worst 13 50 piont games out of 100 pitiful.

it only goes back to 86/87 since they been keepoing the stat his was the worst the last 21 years of all the 60 point games he's the only without an assist the only player with efg that was under 50 percent the last 20 years houston game piutiful.

robert horry got a standing o because they know his nudge won the series for them if stoudamire played they woulda won well just have to do it next year fairly.

you see lebron kobe cant mess with him thats the best player in basketball

At Friday, June 01, 2007 4:13:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

anymous 2

there going to protect kobe at this site your insight is on for the most part if you look at the fg% and the 60 points without a assist but his team still won those games when he didn't have and asist and 2 of the 6 worst were over 50% dont listen to temp he doesnt have that much basketball knowledge david does an all time is not 20 years you would have to look a the whole 60 years for that fam.

At Friday, June 01, 2007 4:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We are just going in circles. You are entitled to your opinion but are of course 100% wrong. One, you don't evaluate any basketball player on the basis of one statistic, let alone on such a small sample of games. Two, if you are attempting to show that Kobe either shoots too much or too inefficiently then you simply have to consider the effect of three point shooting and free throw shooting.

It seems that all you really want to do is say that '87-present is the same as all-time and grasp at straws to find any numbers that you think validate your incorrect opinion about Kobe Bryant, so have fun with that.

At Friday, June 01, 2007 7:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i brought the facts david he has the worst 50 point games fg% the last 21 years and you cant deal with it you had to change it to your bs, whenever someone presents the truth on kobe your going to change it to what you wanna be because your scared of the truth.

they been keeping the stat the last 21 years he has the 6 worst on fg% and the worst Efg those are facts you have no facts your just a kobe lover who cant deal with reality

At Saturday, June 02, 2007 4:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You have repeated yourself on this subject more than enough. I fail to see the significance of parsing Kobe Bryant's field goal percentage in a handful of games, all the more so when he made a substantial number of three pointers and free throws in those games. I am forced to conclude that you either simply do not understand the simple math that is involved in the adjusted field goal percentage stat or else are willfully ignoring it. Please bring some new information to the table, because any future comments that repeat the same tired stuff will be unceremoniously deleted.


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